Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey – Workplace Culture Experts & Barefoot Wine Founders

By Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey – Workplace Culture Experts & Barefoot Wine Founders

The Real Cost of Buying Into ‘Algo-logic’

The Real Cost of Buying Into ‘Algo-logic’ 150 150 MIchael and Bonnie Harvey

We’ve found ourselves in a world where what’s important is predetermined by a simplistic form of artificial intelligence—algorithmic “logic”. It only measures what it’s able to measure.

Since it can’t measure the content’s quality, it measures the amount of response the post, article, video, or podcast gets. This is measured in number of comments, “likes”, or shares. The algorithm assumes that, somehow, engagement determines quality.

Slowly, you may find yourself buying into this naïve and over-generalized rating system because there is nothing better. It seems like everyone else is hopping on this bandwagon too, so you feel validated. This is your first mistake.

Eventually, you start to believe that quality is a hierarchy of engagement. It’s the only system to rely on, after all. Or at least the most popular! But do these algorithms really have the smarts to understand true quality?

Or, on the other hand, can true quality be inhibited by lack of engagement? Even worse, can we be manipulated once we buy into this system? Can crafty digital marketers work the system to create fake statistics, making certain content seem more important to sell you things that don’t work? Absolutely!

In other words, we now vote on what’s important at the expense of critical thinking. Do earlier actions of engagement push content at us at the expense of material that could be more thoughtful, wiser, and overall more valuable to the human experience? Yep!

This is an attractive process where it’s easy to get carried away with trendy distractions at the expense of hard-won lessons in history. Are there better and more important indicators of value than early engagement? We certainly think so. And we worry that those indicators can get lost.

Are smartphones really that smart? Or have we dumbed down to what they can measure? Now, don’t get us wrong—we love this new technology and can’t live without it. But we must constantly work around overly simple algorithms.

For example, we love Pandora, but we have to get around their algorithms to listen to the kind of music we like. Seems like everyone’s workaround is different due to the overly simplistic algorithms. Our friend, Bill, says, “I spend the first few days listening to everything they play on a given station. I quickly hit the likes and dislikes so I don’t get too much of their simplistic idea of what I like.” On the other hand, our friend, Mary, says, “I only hit the ones I dislike so I still get variety without getting into a rut.”

Mary and Bill are dealing with assumptions some programmers made about what’s important. If the song Bill chose first was sung by a woman, they give him all female artists next. Never mind the lyrics, melody, or beat. Bill knows that, and jumps on his next choice to prevent this from happening. But the more active Bill is with his choices, the fewer new offerings, because of the algorithm’s limits. Mary understands this, and only tells Pandora what she dislikes.

How many people enjoy a post without engaging? Most! But does that make the post less newsworthy, less important, or just plain wrong? Algorithms are unable to measure the silent majority—they are silent! They can only measure feedback that’s, well, measurable.

So, now a potential troll farm or minority can manipulate the algorithms and your thinking. They may even lead you to allow or take action because you think it’s what the majority wants. But it’s not. It’s what the programmers say is important because it’s all they can measure.

If this all seems like a call to return to critical thinking, it is! Let’s consider the source as we move on into the New Year.

Our 100-year-old neighbor says, “When airplanes first came out, they’d walk on the wings, light ‘em on fire, and fly ‘em through barns! Nobody ever thought they’d be going to Chicago in one.” Is this where we are now with the algorithms that control what gets pushed in social media? Are we still in the barnstorming phase?

Let’s not dumb ourselves down to what algorithms can measure! Let’s elevate classic standards, proven principles, and history—even if they don’t get a lot of ‘likes’. We’ve had enough cute puppies and mug cakes! It’s time to move on to what actually matters.

You don’t have much time. Don’t be tricked into believing that engagement alone is a measure of value to you, your community, or your business. For example, we don’t get much engagement on our 2 weekly posts and we know why. Our readers simply don’t have the time—they’re businesspeople!

However, our content is often picked up by major business publications such as the C-Suite Network, Entrepreneur, and the Business Journals in 43 cities. People reply to our newsletter and say, “Awesome,” “Please keep these coming,” and “I can’t wait to try this in my own business.” We have only had 2 unsubscribe in 4 years. Click here to see the best of our 30 years of successful business experience. But don’t feel like you have to engage. We’re happy to help!

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